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How to deal with pressure to go back into the office as lockdowns ease

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With workplaces slowly reopening as coronavirus vaccinations gather pace, some people may be feeling the pressure to go back into the office more than they would actually like. 

Many employers have embraced sweeping changes brought in by the coronavirus pandemic, with the majority of people being forced to work from home, as an opportunity to adopt more flexible ways of working going forward.

Technology firms like Spotify and Salesforce are letting employees choose where they want to work from, or if they even want to come back into the office ever again. However, some employers have resisted the idea that this could mark a more permanent shift

And then some companies have policies specifying that workers come into the office at least a certain number of days a week. In theory, this might make workers feel pressured to come into the office more than the specified amount if co-workers are doing so, over similar feelings of guilt that have prompted staff to work longer hours throughout the pandemic.  

But just like those feelings of guilt associated with working remotely, experts say there are ways to overcome this anxiety. 

‘Presenteeism’

Gail Kinman, a visiting professor of occupational health psychology at Birkbeck University of London, told CNBC on a telephone call that “part of the problem is that when people work at home, they often feel that they need to gain trust to show that they’re working.”  

Kinman said less experienced workers, or people who’ve started new jobs during the pandemic, might worry about this more because they’re not yet used to a company’s culture. 

She said it was a similar feeling to “FOMO” (fear of missing out), suggesting that people at home might worry that colleagues going back to work more might have more chance of getting promoted and fear they might be left behind. 

One way to combat this anxiety was to talk to other colleagues to discuss these concerns. 

Ellie Green, a jobs expert at British recruitment site Totaljobs, told CNBC via email that “staff shouldn’t be afraid to instigate conversations with HR departments and bosses to ensure their preferences are heard.” 

She also said it was important for employees to draw clear boundaries between work and home life “to avoid feeling the need to be available at the ping of a (Microsoft) Teams or Slack notification, or caving in to the pressure of presenteeism.” 

Presenteeism can be associated with coming into work when sick. But it can also be interpreted as the culture of workers spending more hours in the office, yet not necessarily being productive the entire time, as a way of putting in “face time” in front of bosses. 

Carina Cortez, chief people officer at Glassdoor, told CNBC over email that it was natural for workers to feel some apprehension about what the “new normal” would look like, given how their expectations around working patterns had changed over the past year. 

She also said it was important for workers feeling under pressure about a return to “make their voice heard and input any way they can to ensure that employers have a broad representation of opinions from staff on returning to the office.” 

At the same time, Cortez said while there were operational and social benefits to spending time in-person with colleagues, if employees did feel pressure to go back into the office more than they’d like, “then maybe it is time to consider employers with a better cultural fit.” 

Janine Chamberlin, U.K. country manager at LinkedIn, told CNBC via email that it was also the responsibility of employers to ensure presenteeism didn’t manifest itself going forward. 

“Businesses that are able to embrace flexible working, building on the trust which has been established during this period of remote working, will not only be able to reduce presenteeism, but end it altogether,” she said.

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France and Britain deploy navy patrol boats to Jersey in dispute over fishing rights

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HMS Tamar is deployed as French fishing boats sail into harbour to protest against new fishing licenses on May 6, 2021 in St Helier, Jersey.

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LONDON — France sent two navy patrol boats to the British Channel Island of Jersey on Thursday as tensions with the U.K. grow following the latter’s departure from the European Union.

The latest French move follows the U.K. government’s decision on Wednesday to send two of its own military boats to the region. Comments by France’s Maritime Affairs Minister Annick Girardin sparked the British move, after she told French lawmakers that France could cut supplies of electricity to Jersey — a small self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom that lies between England and France.

The core of their dispute is over fishing rights.

French fishermen are angry and have complained of tougher conditions placed upon the issuance of fishing licenses. A group of French vessels sailed to Jersey’s port of St Helier on Thursday to protest.

However, authorities in Jersey have denied these accusations, saying they are following the rules established in the U.K.-EU trade deal when issuing fishing permits.

The French maritime affairs ministry was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the U.K. government said Wednesday: “To threaten Jersey like this is clearly unacceptable and disproportionate.”

The island’s main source of electricity comes from France.

The European Commission, which negotiated the trade deal with the U.K., said on Thursday that the bloc is engaging in good faith to solve the dispute with the British government.

Fisheries were one of the main stumbling blocks in trade negotiations between the U.K. and the EU. While the U.K. was a member of the EU, fishermen from both sides could work in each other’s waters and sell fish freely within the Union.

However, this freedom changed slightly in January, once the U.K.’s transition period out of the EU ended.

Under the new trade agreement, EU boats can continue to fish in U.K. waters, but U.K. fishermen will get a higher share of fish from U.K. waters through a phased-in approach. The deal also says that the U.K. could end the right of EU boats to fish in U.K. waters after 2026.

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IPOs are making top investors a fortune — now amateur traders want in

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Coinbase employees spray champagne during the company’s initial public offering (IPO) outside the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — Stock market listings are making founders, venture capitalists and large institutional investors a fortune. Now, retail traders are looking to get in on the action by using a slew of new digital investment platforms.

David Middleton, an M&A advisor based in Warrington, England, bought shares of companies that listed recently, like Palantir, Snowflake and Coinbase, on the stock trading app Freetrade.

“For me it was just a case of: I just like the sound of the business,” Middleton told CNBC over the phone.

Middleton, who is a member of London-based financial education website Finimize, says it’s been a “bumpy road” when it comes to his investments, but that he’s in it for the long term. So far, he’s made a gain on his investments.

“I’m not someone that goes into massive amounts of financial details — there are so many other things that affect share prices,” he added. “I don’t really care what happens in the short term. It could go up or it could go down. I sort of just want to be there for the ride.”

Several platforms have emerged over the years that let amateur investors own a small slice of companies in both the public and private markets. In venture capital, equity crowdfunding services like Crowdcube and Seedrs have long allowed start-ups to raise funds from users, the idea being that this bolsters the relationship between customers and brands.

On Thursday, Crowdcube will launch a secondary market called Cubex, which lets existing shareholders offload some of their stakes in privately-held businesses to retail investors. The platform pulls in data from Crunchbase, a site that shows insights on start-ups, to provide users with information about the companies it lists.

“What we’ve done well over the past 10 years is to enable ordinary people be able to invest in exciting companies,” Darren Westlake, Crowdcube’s CEO and co-founder, told CNBC.

“Our marketplace will list thousands of European companies, the idea being retail investors can come into the platform, use powerful search and discovery tools on the platform and customization to be able to find companies that are of interest to them.”

It’s a particularly timely product launch, especially as a flurry of European tech start-ups look set to go public in the coming months. This year has already seen the likes of Deliveroo and Darktrace enter the public markets, and several other firms are mooted to list soon, including Wise, WeTransfer and Klarna.

Investing in IPOs

Novice investors are increasingly looking to buy into companies’ debuts. Deliveroo let its customers and the general public invest in its IPO through a platform called PrimaryBid. However, due to something called conditional trading restrictions, these investors were locked into their positions until a week after Deliveroo’s first day of trading. The food delivery firm’s shares slumped sharply in its debut, becoming one of the worst London IPOs in history.

“Enabling retail investors to get access to the IPO at the same stage as institutional investors is vital to the market,” said Westlake, who invested £1,000 ($1,390) into Deliveroo via PrimaryBid.

In Britain, some investment platforms are lobbying for the government to let retail investors take part in IPOs to help level the playing field between individual and institutional investors.

“As it stands, retail shareholder rights are almost completely ignored when it comes to the vast majority of IPOs, which largely take place between City institutions behind closed doors,” the CEOs of the CEOs of Hargreaves Lansdown, AJ Bell and Interactive Investor wrote in an open letter to City Minister John Glen in February.

The U.K. Treasury department — which is currently looking to reform London’s listings regime — was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Stateside, Robinhood is reportedly developing a platform that would let its users buy into IPOs, including its own, according to Reuters. The company played a key role when retail traders piled into highly-shorted stocks like GameStop and AMC. Robinhood faced criticism from users for restricting trading in such shares due to volatility and regulatory requirements.

Robinhood declined to comment on Reuters’ report.

Avishek Das | LightRocket | Getty Images

Meanwhile, a U.S. firm called Forge provides a marketplace similar to Crowdcube’s that lets users invest in pre-IPO companies. The company recently raised $150 million from investors including Wells Fargo and Temasek.

Making early bets

Some investors want to back companies at the earlier stage of their journey, in the hope of securing sizable gains by the time a firm floats or is acquired.

Equity crowdfunding sites already let consumers buy shares of early-stage companies. But now some venture capitalists are looking at ways of giving individual investors exposure to their start-up bets.

In the U.K., Passion Capital, an early investor in digital bank Monzo, opened up its third fund to the public through Seedrs. The move meant anyone could become an investor in Passion Capital’s new fund — a role usually limited to pension funds and family offices — and would therefore benefit if the fund’s portfolio rises in value.

“We’ve already heard from other venture fund managers who were just as excited about this, and who have told us they’ll also be using Seedrs to do the same in the near future,” Eileen Burbidge, founding partner of Passion Capital, told CNBC.

Burbidge said she saw a link between the Reddit-fueled stock market frenzy and her initiative.

“Clearly one of the guiding themes was to try and diminish some of the impact of ‘faceless’ hedge funds and bring some of that ‘market power’ to the retail investor,” she said. “Access to market impact, exposure and assets that have been historically been preserved for institutions or the ‘wealthy’ for more individuals is a good thing.”

But, she added, individual investors should be informed of the risks involved before making such investment decisions.

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UK recovery gathering pace on Covid vaccine rollout

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A passageway near the Bank of England (BOE) in the City of London, U.K., on Thursday, March 18, 2021.

Hollie Adams | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — The Bank of England on Thursday said the U.K. economy is on track for a stronger economic recovery than it previously expected, underpinned by the country’s comparatively quick Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

The central bank forecast in February that the world’s fifth-largest economy would grow by 5% this year, following a 10% contraction in 2020 — the worst annual performance in more than three centuries.

The U.K.’s economic slump last year was more severe when compared to most other European economies, partly due to a slower move to implement strict public health measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The BOE has now upgraded its 2021 growth outlook to 7.25%, slightly above analyst expectations.

The brighter economic forecast comes as the country gradually emerges from lockdown and more people are vaccinated against Covid.

The government’s latest data showed more than 50.6 million Covid shots have been given in the U.K. so far, with nearly 35 million first doses and 15.8 million second doses administered.

The BOE’s Monetary Policy Committee on Thursday voted unanimously to hold interest rates steady and maintain its quantitative easing program at current levels as the U.K. looks to recover from the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

It means the central bank’s main lending rate remains at an all-time low of 0.1% and its target stock of asset purchases is left unchanged at £895 billion ($1.2 trillion).

Ahead of the announcement, analysts at Deutsche Bank said they expected it to be “a very close call” on whether the bank decided to pull the trigger on tapering the pace of asset purchases.

Sanjay Raja, senior U.K. economist at Deutsche Bank, said in a research note that a decision on tapering would most likely come at the bank’s June meeting, adding this would “align nicely” with social restrictions lifting on June 21.

Investors were seen to be upbeat on the U.K.’s improving economic outlook. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 gained 1.8% in the previous session to register its best daily performance since mid-February. The share index was last seen trading around 0.1% higher on Thursday.

Sterling was up 0.2% against the dollar following the report’s publication, trading at $1.3931, while the euro gained 0.1% against the pound to trade at 86.40 pence.

Fabrice Montagne, chief U.K. economist at Barclays, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Thursday that the BOE was “already one of the most optimistic” central banks even before raising its economic outlook.

The BOE’s February forecast was at the higher end of the consensus range, Montagne said, and an increase to its projections now “runs the risk of sounding excessively hawkish and possibly calling for early hikes.”

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